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Sealing Roofs, Opening Doors

by Rich Wilhelm

After Dorothy Lawrence’s father, Perry Miller, retired as owner of Industrial Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1972, Lawrence would drive him around to see the buildings on which he had worked. “It was nice for him to point out buildings and say, ‘I did this,’” says Lawrence. “Isn’t it great to be able to take pride in one’s own work?”

Taking pride in one’s own work has been a hallmark of Dorothy Lawrence’s trailblazing career for over 60 years. Lawrence, who turns 80 this month, has been in the roofing and waterproofing business since she was 16 and working at her father’s company. She began in the accounting department, but her interest in the industry grew and eventually she became a project manager. This led her to actual job sites, where crew members weren’t always prepared to encounter a young woman.

While Lawrence can tell funny (and off-color) stories about how men on the crews reacted to her, she says that she was accepted in the onsite situations sooner than she would be by the architects and engineers she later met as her responsibilities grew. In fact, as Lawrence related in a recent profile in Roofing Contractor magazine, upon meeting Frank Lloyd Wright, he asked her to take off her high-heeled shoes, since she was taller than him.

Lawrence focused on product development early in her career. In 1946, she created her first product, “Glasfab,” a woven glass fabric developed in compliance with ASTM Specification D 1668. Much of the technology Lawrence created, including the first hot bitumen roofing tankers and systems for pumping and handling hot asphalt and coal tar pitch to roof areas, is still being used.

In 1949, Lawrence and her husband, Jack C. Lawrence, formed a roofing and waterproofing company, the Twinsburg-Miller Corp. After selling the Glasfab technology in 1966, Dorothy formed the Laurent Corp., which still manufactures Laurenco waterproofing and roofing systems. Jack Lawrence died in 1971, but Dorothy continued to run Laurent while raising two children, Caroline and Jonathan.

Dorothy joined ASTM Committee D08 on Roofing, Waterproofing and Bituminous Materials in 1972. As the first woman member of D08, she encountered some resistance, and even brought her father to early meetings to help make her more “acceptable.” Eventually though, Lawrence served as the chair for Subcommittee D08.19 on Pond, Ditch, and Canal Liners.

Lawrence has long since earned the respect of her colleagues, as well as ASTM International’s highest honor, the Award of Merit. “Dorothy is one of a kind,” says Dick Fricklas, a colleague from D08 and a longtime friend. “She’s extremely knowledgeable, and willing to share that knowledge.”

In addition to Fricklas, she also shares a special friendship with longtime D08 member Charles Pratt and his wife Mary Ellen. “Charles, Mary Ellen, and I have traveled to just about all of the ASTM meetings together. It has been an enjoyable time.”

Lawrence has gained much from her D08 experiences and values the friendships she has developed with Fricklas, the Pratts and others. She has enjoyed working with Justin Henshell, Paul Buccellato, John D’Annunzio, Colin Murphy, Ray Wetherholt and Phillip Dragger, all of whom Lawrence says are “fine consultants.”

While Lawrence’s career has been filled with great accomplishments, she feels that her most important contribution has been that she knows both details and materials. This feeling is echoed by Fricklas, who says Dorothy has “the ability to tie good materials to good, practical details. Success requires both.”

Dorothy Lawrence’s business philosophy is as direct as her conversational style. “The simplest thing to do is to do it straightforward,” Lawrence says. “One of the biggest problems I have is that people design buildings and say ‘oh, we better compensate for this,’ and then they end up compensating for compensations.”

While Lawrence’s age has limited her, she still goes to job sites when she can. “I take a pair of binoculars,” she says. “Believe me, I can see more things than people sometimes want me to see.”

Lawrence is quick to list her favorite projects and she can still discuss technical details of projects she worked on over 40 years ago. Among her favorites are Cobo Hall in Detroit and Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York, as well as churches, museums, power plants, hospitals and other types of buildings across the country. “These are buildings that I’m rather proud of,” Lawrence says, adding emphatically, “and they don’t leak.”

Copyright 2004, ASTM International